A Colorful Story by Amber Deniz Kale
It was my 30th interview. After studying art in college and media in grad school, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in life. So instead of focusing on finding a job, any job, like most of my peers did, I decided to take some time off hoping to find what makes me happy the most. For almost two years, I did my best to work in various fields that I had interest in. I tried publishing, events management, art galleries… I even worked as a baker for a year just because I had sweet tooth and I liked to spend time in the kitchen. But none of these had me jumping out of bed with excitement. Right when I was about to give up on my ‘dream job’ and settle for a position in an art gallery, I came cross the Turkish Philanthropy Funds – a community foundation with a particular focus on Turkey.
On the day of my interview, I showed up 45 minutes early. As I waited outside the building, I did my best to calm down and not get my hopes up. I was 19 years old when I left Turkey to study abroad. My first stop was Paris for college and then, New York for my masters. As the years passed by, I always found a reason to stay here but that didn’t change the fact that I deeply missed Turkey. Yes, I had made New York my home but Turkey was still a big part of my life.
Turkey wasn’t the only draw to TPF. The organization did a lot of work on gender equality. As a woman born and raised in Turkey, I’ve experienced gender based discrimination and harassment. I was only 15 years old when my mother gave me a pepper spray so that I can protect myself as I went to my high school. No need to say that my little brother never needed any protection when he went out. Even though the fact that I had to carry a pepper spray with me bothered me, I considered myself lucky. There were thousands of women all over Turkey who didn’t have the same privileges and suffered from severe violence. As I had enough of reading such incidents in the newspapers every single day, I decided to do something. I dedicated my graduate thesis to women who experienced violence at one point in their lives, interviewed them and made a short documentary telling their stories hoping to raise an awareness on the issue.
As I met with the small but efficient team of TPF, I realized that I had finally found where I belonged. TPF’s Program Associate whom I met on the phone, greeted me with a big smile when I entered their office. As I followed her to the meeting room, I was introduced to the other team members, TPF’s CEO and COO. As soon as we sat down, they started to talk about the organization and their work in Turkey, how they granted over $15m to their partner organizations on the ground only in 8 years. While I was waiting to be asked where I see myself in the next five years, I found myself asking about the details of their projects. When all team members excitedly started to talk at the same time to tell me about different projects, it dawned on me that at the end of the day nothing mattered more to them than the fact that they were able to make a difference in the lives of many in Turkey. As I listened how they empowered the victims of the mine explosion in Soma or provided scholarships to underprivileged children, I could tell that they were a part of TPF not just because they needed a job, but because they truly believed in its mission. And that was enough for me to cross my fingers to get a call back.
When I was offered with the position, I was over the moon. I’ve been here for a year and a half and since my first day, I’ve been mesmerized by the amazing community that I found myself in. A 5-year old who donated her books to her peers in need, a couple who gave up on their birthdays to gift education, a son-in-law who established a scholarship fund to honor his mother-in-law, an architect who started a Giving Circle to provide relief to Syrian refugees, an IT professional who introduced TPF to his company’s matching gift program, a Board Member who ran to raise funds for his home county, a couple who sold their home to give back to Turkey…There is so much to tell about this generous community that I can turn this piece into a book. I’ve met hundreds of people from various backgrounds, with different motivations to make a change in Turkey since my first day. And what’s more amazing is that this community of change makers is growing every single day.
As we celebrate TPF’s 10th anniversary this month, there are no words to describe my gratitude to everyone who is a part of this big family. You are the reason that I’m excited to go to work every single day. You are the core of TPF, our source of energy to take the next step. Whether you are a donor, a supporter or a partner organization, you enable us to make a change overseas and touch someone’s life. Thank you for being with us along this journey. To many more 10 years!